Expat Life in Costa Rica: Simpler but not Easy

In Search of a Simpler Life? Come to Costa Rica

expat life in costa rica: simpler but not easy; julianne murphy; costa rica julianne murphy; la pura vida costa rica expat blog; costa rica real estate; costa rica property for sale; south pacific costa rica
Ahh…wouldn’t you love to have this expat lifestyle every single day in Costa Rica?

It’s common when you think about moving to Costa Rica, that your life is somehow going to be easier. After all, in that perfect dream (born when you fell in love with this tropical paradise), you might find yourself surfing those killer waves or sipping your morning coffee as you watch the tide roll in from your ocean view Costa Rica house.

Am I right? So many of us discover the Pura Vida essence of Costa Rica while visiting on vacation, and we carry that relaxed vision with us as we consider retiring to Costa Rica or moving here.

Expat Life in Costa Rica: Simpler but not Easy

So, what do I mean by that – expat life in Costa Rica: simpler but not easy, at least most of the time?

Well, it’s simple….kind of.

Expat living in Costa Rica is…very much so….simpler than life back “home”, assuming you’ve hailed from a country that’s more developed than Ticolandia (Costa Rican nationals are referred to as “Ticos”).

Your choices for toothpaste here are quite limited – at least here along the South Pacific coast of Costa Rica. The same goes for most of your food items in the grocery store and at the farmer’s market: you have limited choices which does make your selections simpler. Fewer options, no need to think much.

Finding Office Furniture in Costa Rica

My husband and I recently opened our own real estate firm. But since we live on the Pacific coast – almost four hours from Costa Rica’s capital, where all the major shopping is located, we chose to order our office furniture online and have it

expat life in costa rica: simpler but not easy; author julianne murphy; bestselling author julianne murphy; julianne murphy costa rica; costa rica expat blog; costa rica real estate; buying real estate in costa rica; south pacific costa rica real estate
Finding office furniture in our new office in South Pacific Costa Rica proved quite a challenge…

shipped to us. (Shipping stuff to Costa Rica is an entirely different topic, which I’ll cover on another day.) Suffice it to say, the click click click of ordering online is simple, but the subsequent hiring of a trusted shipper, managing the shipment paperwork, paying for the shipment, picking it up and then installing it…none of that fell into the “Easy” category.

We did some previewing of office furniture at the limited selection stores in San Jose before we ordered, and quickly realized that the prices on identical merchandise were at least 30% higher than the U.S. and in some cases more than double. Plus, the selection is very, very limited.

Back in the U.S. in my former life, I’d have ordered my office furniture from one or two websites or visited my nearest Office Depot, pointed and purchased, and two days later, the shipment would have shown up at my door….including the install. Easy.

Sigh.

There are moments like these when I miss the ease of my former life in the U.S.

The reality is that it took three months to get all our office furniture ordered, shipped, picked up and then installed. THREE MONTHS. (Frankly, it makes me tired just to think about it. But at least now, I’m on this side of it.)

It’s part and parcel of living along the Costa Rican South Pacific coast.

Another example: coffee. Here in Costa Rica, coffee is grown like crazy. It’s delicious. You’d think there would be coffee shops on every corner. But in my little coastal town, there’s only one coffee shop and it’s not open every day. So, if I want coffee on a day when this little shop is closed (and I did not have the inclination to make my own at home), then my second option is to drive 15 minutes down the road to the next town.

Limited options make my choice simpler, yes. But, this is hardly the ease with which I used to walk to Starbucks, which sat – easily – across the street from my office in Denver and pick up a Chai without thinking twice.

There’s no Starbucks in the Costa Rican Jungle

I know, I know. None of us move to Costa Rica jungle in search of Starbucks. (Though there is one now in the international airport in San Jose, just so you know.) It’s just an example.

Car Repairs in Costa Rica

Ha ha! Here I have to laugh a bit, because this is so often a topic that NO ONE considers until they’ve actually bought their piece of Costa Rica real estate. But it should be considered, because the wear and tear and maintenance on your car in Costa Rica will cost you a lot more than it did back home. And the bigger question – for we coastal dwellers – is WHERE you will find that reputable, trusted repair shop.

Visit any online Costa Rica expat community group and you’ll see that one of the most frequently discussed subjects is where to get your car fixed. One person recommends XYZ shop; another complains that they got ripped off there. Someone else pipes up with another name; yet another expat will scream that their car sat there for three months and exited with the problem still in tact. It’s a never ending story.

Simpler versus Easy regarding Car Repair in Costa Rica

The choices are very simple: (1) you can buy a brand new car – expensive, yes, but it also comes with a three to five year maintenance package, hooray! or (2) you can buy a previously owned car and take your chances.

We’ve bought three used cars in recent years and have had pretty good luck with that route. However, we also choose to make our lives simpler by taking them back to the dealer (think, Ford or Toyota) to get their annual check-ups and for all the regular maintenance and repairs. (Believe me, when you bounce up and down 4 x 4 roads 365 days a year, your vehicle needs more regular maintenance than it did back home, especially when it comes to suspension. Now maybe if you came from the Australian Down Under, that won’t be the case, but for the bulk of new expats to Costa Rica, this is a very true statement.)

Is taking our cars to the dealer simpler? Yes. It is more expensive? Yes. But are the parts warrantied, as well as the work? Yes. Is this route easier? No. Because our dealers are between 1.5 hours drive (Toyota) and four hours drive (Ford) from where we live. When we take the Ford into San Jose, we need to schedule for pet care, house sitting, hotel rooms and eating out. All of that adds up. But, long term, does it mean our car will have less problems on all of our local roads during the rest of the year? Yes. So, long term simpler? Yes.

The alternative option would be to locate a local mechanic and take our

expat life in costa rica: simpler but not easy; author JuliAnne Murphy; bestselling author JuliAnne Murphy; JuliAnne Murphy Costa Rica; Costa Rica expat life; Costa Rica expat blog; Costa Rica real estate; South Pacific Costa Rica Real Estate
Choosing the right mechanic in Costa Rica: just another example of the simpler expat life….or is it easy? Hmm…

cars to them for service. Easier, yes. Simpler, long term? No. With all three cars, we’ve tried this route – with three different mechanics – and though my hubby is a “Tico” (meaning a Costa Rican native), we’ve had less than stellar luck. Problems on each and every encounter. 🙁

After multiple attempts on the “easier” route, we gave up and abandoned the local mechanic option and have since gotten really good at planning those needed maintenance trips.

Now, the truth is, as many new Costa Rica expats as I may share this story with….at least half of them will still attempt the local mechanic route – over and over and over again – and then, the next five times I see them, it’s all they will talk about. (Part of that has to do with the 1% Rule of Meeting Other Expats Abroad – another recent post I did here.)

Which Do You Prefer for your Future Costa Rica Expat Lifestyle: Simpler or Easy?

You always have a choice. If you said, simpler, than life here on the South Pacific Costa Rica coast will appeal to you in a huge, huge way. Welcome. And if easy is your answer, that’s great….but once you make sure that Costa Rica is where you want to live, I’d suggest you choose a more populated area like San Jose or Escazu or any other area closer to the city. And even then….you’re still in Pura Vida land….where life moves at its own pace. 🙂

Want More on Expat Life in Costa Rica?

I’ve been living abroad in Costa Rica (and Panama, before) for almost ten years. I write about expat living in hopes that my experiences will be of help to others who are considering this lifestyle. On the right hand column, you should be able to see some other recent topics I’ve written about.

You’re also welcome to subscribe to my newsletter list here.

Interesting in buying your own piece of Pura Vida Costa Rica real estate paradise?

I can help you with that too. We opened our new boutique real estate firm in South Pacific Costa Rica in April 2017. We’re one of the only local brokerages who’s

expat life in costa rica: simpler but not easy; Author JuliAnne Murphy; bestselling author JuliAnne Murphy Costa Rica; Costa Rica Pura Vida expat blog, Costa Rica Real Estate; South Pacific Costa Rica Real Estate
Yours Truly, here, living and working the Costa Rica expat lifestyle along the South Pacific coast. 🙂

owned by a Tico and a North American (local connections, international expertise), and who are legal, licensed and committed to working in an ethical manner. Check us out here.

The 1% Rule when Meeting Other Expats Abroad

Meeting Other Expats Abroad – What’s the Reality?

When it comes to meeting other expats, many people think that they will make friends easily when they move abroad. I mean, we’re all expats, right? That’s a big thing to have in common! But when meeting other expats abroad, the reality is that the 1% rule governs.

What is the 1% Rule?

The 1% rule is a law of averages I’ve come up with to make sense of what my personal experience of living abroad in Costa Rica and in Panama for the past ten years. My experiences – and those of other expats who I’ve interviewed and known as friends and co-workers – leads me to believe this rule applies to expats as people…not to expats living in a particular location.

The 1% Rule is numbers driven. (Accountants and Mathemeticians,rejoice!) Let’s use the United States as our backdrop for this post, since it’s my home country.

Why the Rule is Called “1%”

The U.S. has 350 million citizens. Of those, 46% hold passports for international travel. In 2016, just 19% of U.S. citizens traveled abroad. But how many of those travelers venture out further and make the decision to actually move abroad?

While the diagram below gives a fun breakdown by Internations published in 2016 of what the average U.S. expat looks like, there are no firm numbers of how many U.S. citizens actually live outside the U.S., only estimates.

Expat Statistics on US Americans Abroad — infographic


Estimates of how many U.S. expats live abroad range from two to seven million. Hmm…that’s a pretty big range!

So back to our 1% Rule for Meeting Other Expats Abroad equation.

Let’s assume – since there are no firm numbers – that five million U.S. citizens live abroad. Five million of 350 million equates to 1.4% of the total U.S. population.

This 1.4% is why I named this Meeting Other Expats rule, “The 1% Rule”. I assume that this number is more or less going to be the case for most other countries (not taking into account those that are war-torn).

Let’s Keep Breaking It Down

Keeping the 1.4% in mind, consider Costa Rica and Panama – where I’ve resided full-time for the past ten years. Estimates in Panama for U.S. citizens in 2012 were around 20,000. In Costa Rica, according to the U.S. State Department in 2013, U.S. citizens in Costa Rica totaled 50,000, though only 12,000 held legal residency visas. (I have yet to see more recent statistics reported online to date.)

(Side note: I’ll do another post soon on legal residency in Costa Rica.)

Back to our numbers – let’s estimate 70,000 U.S. expats live between Costa Rica and Panama. When you split that number across all the little retirement towns along the Pacific coast and between the two capital cities in the two countries, 70,000 expats is really not that many. Yes, you’ll run into more expats from the U.S. and Canada than those from other countries, most likely, but even so, 70,000 is the size of the town I grew up in. It’s not that big.

Applying the 1% Rule when Meeting Other Expats Abroad

meeting other expats abroad in costa rica; meeting other expats abroad la pura vida costa rica; costa rica real estate for sale
It’s exciting to meet other expats abroad, but it’s wise to take your time in getting to know them.

Now remember, when you live abroad, you’re not just living with other expats from your country of origin. Our tiny coastal community of Costa Ballena in South Pacific Costa Rica is comprised of expats from around the world – Argentina, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Scotland, Spain….you get the picture. It’s colorful and it’s fun to have this much diversity, much less the local Costa Rican nationals!

So, assume that 1% of all the countries in the world are those that you will meet abroad.

Now, consider your city or state back home, wherever that might be, and think of it like this: when you live in your country of origin (the U.S., in our example), you have the entire diverse population of your citizenry around you. And from that pool of different personalities and backgrounds and sub-cultures within your own country, you select your friends from within your community. But even within your own community, you don’t get along with every one, do you? Nope. There are lots of people in your own home town or state or province that you would never choose to fraternize with.

Can’t We All Just Get Along? Well, Maybe…

Keeping that in mind….here’s the bottom line. You cannot expect that just because you meet other expats in your new country that you’re going to like them or that you’re going to have anything in common with them.

In fact, often, it’s just the opposite. Remember that guy at your old job back home that bugged the living sh#t out of you with his stupid jokes? Or the gal in your church who was always skating the line between legal and illegal with her business? Or the Peeping Tom in your community with a window washing company who got caught?

Yep. You’ll find those same kinds of characters here – whether Panama, Costa Rica, New Zealand or Timbuktu. You’ll encounter top of the line and bottom of the barrel folks and the truth is you’re just not gonna gel with everyone.

Why Can’t We Be Friends, Fellow Expats?

Let’s break down the final equation.

Every time I now meet an expat – no matter where they hail from, whether U.S. or not – I keep the 1% Rule in mind. I know that they too come from the 1% of “those who moved abroad” from their home country.

meeting other expats abroad in costa rica; meeting other expats abroad in panama; meeting other expats abroad; costa rica real estate
What fun it is to connect with other expats until you realize that something about their story doesn’t feel right…

I then expect that 50% of all the people I meet will be people I have zero interest in socializing with.

Because these people will be living abroad for a reason that doesn’t jive with my values – maybe they’re running from the law, maybe they’re evading taxes, maybe they’re just living abroad illegally, who knows. It doesn’t really matter. The law of averages bears out such that I know that one out of two expats I meet is someone that I’ll say, “Hmm. Okay. Nope. Next.” (And by the way, this is not conjecture…this is not real….I’ve met these people – over and over and over again.)

Of the remaining 50% (of that original 1%), half of those people will be the characters I referenced above – the ones I would never have anything to do with if I met them in my home town. So why would I want to socialize with them here? Bottom line, I probably won’t, though I might on occasion if we’re in a larger social setting. (Except the Peeping Tom guy….assuming I figured that one out…ewww.)

The reality of living abroad is that the expat circle from which you select your friends – whether they turn into close ones or have-a-drink-with ones – is much smaller than the pool you had to choose from when you lived back home.

But don’t forget the remaining 25% (of the 1%)! Now, THESE are my people! Yahoo! They are fun, adventurous, open minded, interesting, educated and savvy. And this is where my social circle forms. And it’s probably where yours will too.

If you think about it, 25% of 1% is one of four, right? Those numbers are pretty good, aren’t they?

Expat Life in Costa Rica: It’s Paradise, but It Ain’t Perfect

Now you can be sure, as soon as I put this post up, I’ll hear it: Hey, JuliAnne, you’re being way too negative.

But this stuff is truth, my dear readers.

Keep in mind, I’ve lived abroad – as a corporate executive and now as an entrepreneur – for ten years.

So, this is not about slamming anyone or making stuff up.

This is REAL EXPAT LIFE, people. And I choose to share it – the good, the bad and the ugly – so that other future expats like you have a bit of a leg up on knowing what it’s really like.

With these morsels of shared experiences, perhaps you can avoid some of the heartache I and many others like me had along the way because of unrealistic expectations.

Because at the end of the day, it’s your expectations which will make you sink or swim as an expat living aboard, no matter where you are.

So, pack your bags, get out there, shake some hands, throw back some cocktails (or a freshly-squeezed Costa Rica fruit juice) – it’s so much fun once you find your 25%! And, believe you me, they’re waiting for you too!

Want more insider input on Expat Life in Costa Rica?

Some other recent articles.

Expat Interview with a Recent Retiree to Costa Rica

The 101 on Buying Real Estate in Costa Rica

If you’re interested in Costa Rica real estate for sale in Costa Ballena including Dominical, Uvita, Ojochal and Tres Rios along the South Pacific coast, my husband and I own South Pacific Costa Rica Real Estate.

We recently published an article on Five Things You Need to Ask Before You Buy in Costa Rica. If that’s of interest, sign up and you can download that report for free (on the link in the line above)! It’s relevant no matter where you buy in Costa Rica.

Until next time, Pura Vida, and good luck to you as you start your new life as an expat abroad!

How to Retire in Costa Rica: Expat Alexis Cress

How to Retire in Costa Rica – Expat Interview with Alexis Cress, Part II

costa rica pura vida julianne murphy costa rica blog
Alexis is certified to teach Vinyasa yoga, which she does 2-4 days a week in Costa Rica.

Many of you who read this blog are interested in, most often, how to retire in Costa Rica. Expat Alexis Cress hails originally from Minnesota, and she and her husband recently retired here to Costa Rica’s South Pacific coast. We met and talked in early January, and you can see Part I of this interview here. Part II, which follows, will share more from Alexis’s perspective about finding social connections, her love for teaching yoga, the surprises she’s found since moving to Costa Rica, and recommendations she makes to people looking at how to retire in Costa Rica.

Finding Social Connections as a New Expat in Costa Rica

Costa RIca sunset, La Pura Vida Costa Rica, JuliAnne Murphy, Costa Ballena Costa Rica, Ballena Coast sunset
In Costa RIca, the Pura Vida life does allow you to catch plenty of sunsets.

JuliAnne: Alexis, retiring to Costa Rica means you’ve essentially left all your old friends back at home behind. A common complaint I hear often – especially from women – is that they have problems finding and making friends, once they are here. What’s your experience with that so far?

Alexis: I’m an introvert so I need to make myself get connected. So for me, I’m finally at the point – 18 months after we moved here full-time in June 2015 – when I have the chance to get connected because we’ve been so busy.  I think for introverts it can be a challenge here, because you can get isolated. And I think, you have to make an effort to go out. In rainy season, I don’t like to go out after a certain time due to the rain because the roads can be dangerous and visibility can be challenging.

JuliAnne: Your home is here on the side of the mountain, which offers beautiful views, but I imagine you have to plan your outings. It’s not like you are down the street from 7-11 or from the hardware store. You’re a good 20 minutes up the hillside from the town below, correct?

how to retire in costa rica, retiring to costa rica, retiring in costa rica, expat interview julianne murphy, alexis cress expat interview, bestselling author julianne murphy, la pura vida costa rica blog, costa ballena real estate, costa ballena yoga classes
Want to know how to retire in Costa RIca? Alexis and Leo did it in 2015.

Alexis: Yes. We chose to build on the edge of town, not in town, so that does have its own challenges.

JuliAnne: You don’t have a ton of neighbors from what I can see.

Alexis: Actually, we do have a handful, and we’ve become acquainted with all of them. Most of them also hail from Canada or the U.S., and we’ve gotten to know their Tico caretakers, as well. We all help each other out. I don’t ever feel isolated, really, because I know all these people are within arm’s reach if needed.

JuliAnne: What about making friends and social connections?

Alexis: I do a lot of stuff with women. There’s a ladies’ luncheon here in town every two weeks that I attend. Plus, I teach yoga two to four times a week, depending on the season. My hubby, however, is more of a homebody, so we don’t do out a lot of socializing outside our home as a couple.

Vinyasa Yoga Classes with a View in Ojochal, Costa Rica

La Pura Vida Costa Rica expat blog
Alexis built her own yoga studio on their property in Costa Rica on the side of a mountain.

JuliAnne: Tell me more about your yoga practice. We’re sitting in this beautiful wood and steel pavilion here that you built on your property. It’s stunning with the views both the ocean and the rainforest. I can imagine it’s a really unique experience to practice up here.

Alexis: I taught a lot of yoga in the U.S. (I am a registered 200-hour yoga instructor.) I’m also certified in Mindfulness Meditation. I have taught yoga for three years now and I love it! I love teaching. I used to be a triathlete and a marathoner. I’m also certified in Yoga Sculpt. I’m really into fitness, so all of that has evolved into a way for me to share that passion with others – getting the meditation in, as well – plus it’s great for me in my own spiritual practice.

JuliAnne: Tell me more about the local yoga classes that you offer.

Alexis: I started initially at Bali Rica in August 2015 teaching one morning a week. Here, in my own studio, I teach yoga on Tuesday mornings. Everyone is welcome to come to my classes; they are designed for all levels. In the future, I’m thinking of offering some special events on special topics here in my open-air studio.

JuliAnne: What can one expect to pay for one of your yoga classes?

Alexis: If the class takes place here in my studio, the person may make a donation for the class. All that money goes to charity here in the community. For classes at Bali Rica, I offer packages for multiple classes, or a drop-in costs $10.

The Surprises Alexis found when she moved to Costa Rica

JuliAnne: The donation class is a great option for retirees on a fixed income or people that live on a budget. I like that. Alexis, there’s always a few things that can never be anticipated before one moves abroad. Since this is your first experience in that, tell me what was surprising about moving to this part of Costa Rica for you and Leo?

La Pura Vida Costa Rica expat lifestyle blog
Another shot of Alexis’ home yoga studio in Costa Rica with the sun setting behind.

Alexis: There have been a few surprises we weren’t prepared for, I’ll admit.

  • For starters, I miss the ability to go down to the corner store to get what I need; there’s a lot of planning that goes into living here. The grocery is 30 minutes away.
  • Also, the famed Pura Vida lifestyle. It’s been a big adjustment for us. A good one! But, I have had to learn how to “go with the flow” a lot more here than I did ever did back in Minnesota.
  • The starting over in establishing a girlfriend network can be tough. I miss my girlfriends back in Minnesota so much. Even though we didn’t see each other that often – just once a month probably – just knowing that I could see them if I needed to was comforting. That feeling is a lot different here than I anticipated.
  • I love to run outside. In Minnesota, I did that a lot. But here, with roads constructed of mountain rock that gets either very dusty or very muddy, that can be a challenge (at the minimum) or even dangerous (when they are slick). So, I miss that.

Three Recommendations for New Expats Moving to Costa Rica

JuliAnne: Thank you for sharing those things, Alexis. All of those are significant changes, most of which new expats never think about. Now that you and Leo are 18 months into your Costa Rica retirement, what three recommendations would you make to new expats considering such a move?

La Pura Vida Costa Rica lifestyle blog by author JuliAnne Murphy
Alexis is a former Certified Financial Planner who retired with her husband to Costa Rica’s South Pacific coast

Alexis: First, I would say rent for a long time. Some recommend that when you are new, you should rent for two years; I would say rent for at least a year, if you know the area you’re interested in. During that time period, you will find out what it’s really like to live there, and if it’s the place you think it will be.

That was what we were planning on doing, but I was itching to buy. We looked at so many homes around here and could not find what we wanted that it was discouraging. So then we started thinking about lots. When we found this lot where we’re sitting, we fell in love with it. But, that said, it would not have hurt to have waited a year.

JuliAnne: It’s a common to mistake to fall in love with an area and to move lock, stock and barrel and then discover you really didn’t know what you were getting into. What you said makes a ton of sense. What else?

Alexis: One really big surprise to us was the cost of living and how expensive it is to live in Costa Rica. We could not find a lot of research here on cost of living data before we moved. We’re spending a lot less on food here (though we’re not meat eaters; we eat vegetables, beans, rice, etc. so the cost of food is not so bad for us.) But all the car stuff – the car purchase, the car maintenance, the gas, the auto parts – living in the area with the dirt roads and the mud and the 4 x 4 and ongoing dangers plays into all of those ongoing bills in a big way.

JuliAnne: Agreed. The cost of personal transportation here in Costa Rica is much higher than in many other countries. Buying a car here by itself normally costs about double of what you would pay in Panama or Nicaragua because of the taxes alone.

Alexis: Third, I recommend that new people get join the community forums or Facebook pages for the area they are interested in and check in often to see what’s really happening. People are very honest, most of the time, in these forums, and you can learn a lot.

JuliAnne: A good idea, to be sure. Most future expats who contact me are always hoping to connect with more established expats to ask questions and so forth.

Alexis: Fourth, living in a rural area like here along the South Pacific coast, it’s really important to speak Spanish. If possible, learn as much as you can prior to your move. I am taking Spanish lessons now and beginning to get a feel for the language. This seems to be much more important along the coast than in the more developed areas around San Jose, the capitol.

JuliAnne: I don’t think enough can be said about the important of learning some Spanish before you relocate to or retire in Costa Rica. So many expats – especially those from the U.S. – come and assume they can make it and be happy without any language skills. This is simply very difficult to do.

Finding Happiness in Costa Rica

moving to costa rica, costa rica expat, julianne murphy, la pura vida costa rica blog, expat interview costa rica, costa ballena hotels, beaches in costa ballena costa rica
Alexis is seated here on one of Costa Ballena’s gorgeous beaches. How does it get any better?

JuliAnne: On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being very satisfied, how would you rate your happiness level at this point with your retirement in Costa Rica?

Alexis: I would say I’m at an 8 overall. Adjusting – as I described – is a big part of living here, especially at first. There are a lot of healing modalities and providers in Costa Rica (such as alternative medicine providers: acupuncture, massage, reiki, chiropractors, etc.) – especially in the Costa Ballena area that have been very helpful to me personally, as we’ve gotten settled. That has been a huge gift and has made the transition easier.

JuliAnne: Alexis, thank you again for your openness, your transparency and your willingness to share with me and the La Pura Vida Costa Rica readership about your move to Costa Rica and your experience so far. And, most of all, congratulations on your new home and your land! You’ve created a beautiful space here!

Alexis: Thank you, JuliAnne. We love our new space and all of the nature that goes with it – it’s gorgeous. We’re very happy with it. It was a pleasure to chat with you.

For more on Alexis, visit her website.

Want to keep abreast of future posts about my Costa Rica expat life?

If so, follow me on Facebook, connect with me on Twitter, or sign up for my e-newsletter list here. I look forward to it!

If you’re searching for your perfect piece of Costa Rica Property For Sale, look no further! We recently opened a boutique real estate firm in South Pacific Costa Rica. We can help you find your piece of paradise, no matter your budget.

Why I chose Costa Rica: Meet Alexis Cress

How to Retire in Costa Rica: Meet Expat Alexis from Minnesota

Costa RIca, Alexis Cress, La Pura Vida Costa Rica, expat interview, JuliAnne Murphy
Alexis Cress is a former certified financial planner & coach who moved to Costa Rica

There we sat, the two of us, in cross-legged relaxation drinking cool green tea, having a conversation, as the midday breeze caressed our faces, fluffing our hair. Between sips of tea and our discussion about how to retire in Costa Rica, I found myself gazing out at the view of the Pacific Ocean in the distance and the kaleidoscope of greens visible in the adjacent forest.

Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? And indeed it was. This was a recent Tuesday, when Alexis Cress agreed to host me at her home yoga studio so that I could interview her for this first expat interview of 2017 for my La Pura Vida Costa Rica blog.

I met Alexis through her yoga teaching. She teaches an all-level Vinyasa Flow once a week down the street from my home on an open-air pavilion at a neighbor’s bed and breakfast. After several weeks, I realized that Alexis – who is around my age, in her late 40’s – had a story to tell about her sojourn to Costa Rica (which includes her husband) and some tips on their experience and how it might inform your choice on how to retire in Costa Rica – that might be interesting to you, my La Pura Vida Costa Rica readers. At my invitation, she agreed to speak with me.

So, first off, a very special thanks to Alexis Cress for her willingness to open her yoga studio to me (which was where we sat, pictured here), and for sharing her story.

Costa RIca, rainforest, yoga in Costa Rica, JuliAnne Murphy, expat interview
Alexis’ home studio overlooks the Pacific Ocean and the rainforest in Costa Rica

Editor note: As in all my expat interviews, I do my best to let you the reader hear as much as possible directly from the person with whom I spoke. Thus, the following will be a back and forth of the conversation Alexis and I had. (She has also had the opportunity to review this interview and to make any edits that she felt were appropriate.)

So, without further ado, meet Alexis Cress.

The Journey from Minnesota to Costa Rica

JuliAnne: Alexis, first off, where are you from?

Alexis: We moved to Costa Rica from Bloomington, Minnesota, which is a suburb of Minneapolis.

JuliAnne: Alexis, how did you discover Costa Rica?

Alexis: We traveled to Costa Rica on vacation a few years ago; we treated ourselves to a trip each year to somewhere that had warm weather. Arenal, Costa Rica, was the first place we traveled to, and we loved it. There, we did the touristy stuff – white water rafting, zip lining, the hot springs.

(Arenal is in the mountainous volcano region of Costa Rica, and boasts its very own volcano, which is still active! It includes one of the most visited national parks in Costa Rica, which is a big tourist draw to the country.)

JuliAnne: What do you and Leo do for a living here in Costa Rica, Alexis?

Alexis:  We are full time retirees.  In the past, my husband Leo was a commodities trader and I was a certified financial planner and coach. I had my own businesses for quite a few of the last several years.

How did you choose Costa Rica for retirement?

JuliAnne: How did you decide to move to Costa Rica for retirement?

Ojochal Costa RIca real estate, JuliAnne Murphy La Pura Vida Costa Rica expat blog, expat interview, living in costa rica
Alexis shot this photo herself from their home in Ojochal, Costa Rica.

Alexis: We were not completely sold on moving abroad, to be honest. We considered a lot of areas – both Stateside and international before we chose Costa Rica.

JuliAnne: What areas in the United States did you consider?

Alexis: In the U.S., we had researched Florida quite a bit, and some areas in California. Because I have asthma, I feel better in a more humid, temperate climate. That was a plus for Florida. California fell off our list because of cost of living considerations. Many areas in the U.S. that have beach frontage or access are very pricey. We also looked at Hawaii and Washington.

JuliAnne: What countries did you consider outside the U.S.?

Alexis: Other than Costa Rica, we looked at Jamaica, Ecuador, Panama and Puerto Rico.

JuliAnne: How did those weigh out against Costa Rica as you did your research?

Alexis: We could not find a lot online about Ecuador really; there did not seem to be a strong presence of expats living in Ecuador that had community groups online or anything like that. Nor did there seem to be much online about expat experiences in Ecuador. That was a bit of a concern for us. We got married in Jamaica, and love the people there and the chill vibe, but once we looked into it further, weren’t comfortable with living on such a small island. Safety was also a concern for Jamaica. Though we visited Panama – that country did not feel right either. I’m not sure if this was due to the strong American influence we observed there, or because of the safety issues (we heard about). Puerto Rico was going through a financial crisis when we looked at it, so we decided to cut it from the list for that reason.

Researching Costa Rica prior to moving

JuliAnne: What kind of research did you do about Costa Rica as a place to live and retire?

Alexis: We read two or three books from Amazon on retiring to Costa Rica. We read a blog from one of the books, Happier Than a Billionaire: Quitting My Job, Moving to Costa Rica, and Living the Zero Hour Work Week and we followed that author for a while. The books had a lot of links, which we also explored. We also looked at the U.S. Embassy’s page for Costa Rica.

JuliAnne: What were the top three reasons you decided to move to Costa Rica, versus all of those other places?

Alexis:  Costa Rica was said to be very peaceful – that resonated with us; we liked the fact that the country does not have a standing army. Second, we love the climate in Costa Rica. As I said, I have asthma and I do better in a temperate, humid environment. Costa Rica offers both. Access to the ocean was also very important for us, especially me, and we wanted to be close to nature. Finally, we were looking for a small type of community in which to settle – one that was not too over developed and Costa Rica seemed to have quite a few of those.

Falling in Love with Costa Rica’s Costa Ballena region

moving to costa rica, costa rica expat, julianne murphy, la pura vida costa rica blog, expat interview costa rica, costa ballena hotels, beaches in costa ballena costa rica
Alexis is seated here on one of Costa Ballena’s gorgeous beaches. How does it get any better?

JuliAnne: So, now here you are settled in Costa Ballena along Costa Rica’s South Pacific coast.

While in the past a lot of retirees were choosing Guanacaste and Papagayo, Costa Ballena has risen in the past couple of years as an attractive option for retirees. Did you take a look at other areas inside Costa Rica before deciding that this was your preference or were you convinced that the South Pacific was where you wanted to be, as soon as you visited?

Alexis: When we left to go back to Minnesota after our third trip to Costa Rica, we felt like Costa Ballena was a strong option. The tipping point for moving here was us being able to sell our home in Minnesota before we could take the leap.

JuliAnne: What specifically drew you to the Costa Ballena region?

Alexis: I love water, so that was the biggest draw for me, since we are right on the South Pacific coast of Costa Rica. (Editor’s Note: The Ballena Coast has numerous beaches for surfing, paddle boarding, walking and camping, some of which have been reported to be among the country’s prettiest.)

Because Leo, my husband, and I liked this area so much, we came two more times over a three-year period to the Ballena Coast. Between the second and third visit, we had researched other places besides this area here in Costa Rica that we might also want to consider.

We did a lot of research on the Central Valley of Costa Rica – cost of living and so forth, and we looked into Guanacaste online. In the Central Pacific, we looked at Jaco, which is a big town but it did not speak to us at all.

Your Choices for Moving to Costa Ballena: Uvita, Dominical or Ojochal?

JuliAnne: Did you look at other towns here in Costa Ballena, other than Ojochal?

Alexis: In this area, we had looked at Dominical and Uvita.  I originally thought that because of my yoga interest that perhaps Dominical would be good for me, but I did not feel a connection there. Dominical is home to more of a hippy, surfer crowd.

yoga costa rica, costa rica yoga teacher training, alexis cress yoga costa rica, author julianne murphy costa rica, expat interview pura vida costa rica
Even Alexis’ mutt enjoys yoga! It helps when mom teaches…

When we checked out Uvita, we found there were a lot of other Minnesotans there. But, the housing there seemed to be more expensive.

When we drove South to Ojochal, where we live now, we liked the people we met here; they were very down to earth. We met Canadians, some Coloradans – everyone was really nice. One of the realtors we met also had asthma like me so it was nice to compare notes with someone who had similar health concerns.

JuliAnne: So, once you found Ojochal, was your mind made up after seeing some homes in the area?

Alexis: On our final visit before we moved, we joined the Ojochal Community Page on Facebook, which allowed us to see what was going on day-to-day down here prior to making that final decision.

We tried to put ourselves in the situations we read about, what we would be doing day to day. I also reached out to people online through the community page and asked about yoga and teaching yoga and people seemed to be very interested in having a new teacher in town.

JuliAnne: I have to say, Alexis, it does sound like you and Leo really did your homework. I often hear very different stories from other expats who fell in love but did not look go to the lengths that you all did in terms of finding out what it was going to be like day to day before they picked up and moved. That’s great.

Alexis: We’re big on research (giggling). Before we purchased our first home together many years ago, we looked at 50 homes before we made an offer. So, yes, we are meticulous. As we did the research on all the areas we looked at for retirement, my husband would play devil’s advocate on everything and I would find the positive aspects.

Based on all the time we took and the homework we did, we do feel like we picked the right place.

Building a House in Costa Rica

JuliAnne: You and Leo have built a home here in Ojochal, correct?

retiring to costa rica, retiring in costa rica, expat interview julianne murphy, alexis cress expat interview, bestselling author julianne murphy, la pura vida costa rica blog, costa ballena real estate, costa ballena yoga classes
Alexis and Leo moved to Costa Rica in 2015 to retire.

Alexis: Yes. We moved to Ojochal and rented for about nine months while our home was being constructed.

JuliAnne: I hear so many complaints from expats in Costa Rica about the construction process locally. I believe some of that is due to people not understanding the cultural differences in work ethic and processes here along the coast. Could you run me through the timeline of when you moved here, when you bought your lot and how long building your home took? I think a lot of people considering Costa Rica would be interested in hearing that.

Alexis: We moved down here on June 1, 2015. We purchased our lot in August that same year. Then, we started construction on our house in October, just two months later.

JuliAnne: That’s actually a pretty quick timeline! How long did your overall construction take, start to finish?

Alexis: It only took five months. We moved in on March 1 of 2016.

JuliAnne: Wow! That’s much faster than most people I hear from. Granted your home is a modest size versus some of the others in this market, but was that the timeline that your builder had promised you?

Alexis: The contractor had promised three months, and it took five, so that’s not too bad.

Retirement in Costa Rica: What’s it like day to day?

JuliAnne: Well, congratulations on reaching retirement and finding your paradise here in the tropics! Many people are interested in retiring earlier and earlier these days. How do you and Leo find that you spend your time differently, now that you are retired?

retiring in costa rica, expat author julianne murphy, costa ballena costa rica real estate, south pacific coastal real estate costa rica, bestselling author julianne murphy
Retiring in Costa Rica is not all sunsets and cocktails…but you do get a few!

Alexis: We always wanted to work with the community as retirees. There are community groups here that we’re getting involved with, as time goes by, and we’re enjoying that.

With the acreage we have – our lot is three acres, we are pretty busy caring for our land. Plus, as you know, I teach yoga.

JuliAnne: Some retirees tell me that once they move to Costa Rica, they get bored. Have you found yourself bored since you’ve been here? The Costa Ballena community is very small.

Alexis: No. I have not felt like there was a moment that I didn’t have enough to do, since we’ve been here. On our land alone, we’ve planted 150 fruit trees in the past nine months, as well as a ton of flowers and pineapple plants. Plus, we’ve recently put in a new nursey. We plan to grow our own food, at least vegetables and herbs.

JuliAnne: Wow, you guys are busy! That’s great. Are you guys completely off the municipal grid up here, since you’re pretty far up the mountainside?

Alexis: No, we’re not, though we like the idea of being as sustainable as possible. Our new house is solar powered, however, with a back-up to the electrical company.

And there’s more to come…

retiring in costa rica, retirement income in costa rica, retirement visa costa rica, costa rica real estate, moving abroad, costa ballena real estate
More from Alexis in this exclusive chat about what her retirement to Costa Rica has been like…next week!

Alexis talks shares further about retirement in Costa Rica in our next segment, which will come out next week. Stay tuned for more on:

  • Making social connections when you live on the coast,
  • Teaching yoga, and
  • The surprises she didn’t expect before they moved abroad to Costa Rica.

For more about Alexis and her style of yoga, visit her website.

Interested in buying your own piece of Costa Rica Real Estate in South Pacific Costa Rica?

We are licensed, legal REALTORS in Costa Rica, and we can help. Click here.

Want to know more about what living in Costa Rica is really like from a nine-year expat?

You’ve found the right place! You can read more about me, JuliAnne Murphy, my bestselling books about moving to Panama, and more on my full-time life in Costa Rica by clicking around on these links. If you’d like to hear from some other expats in Costa Rica, check out my recent chat with Enzo from Italy who owns a thriving boutique hotel and Italian restaurant, as well as some others I’ve spoken with on my Panama Gringo Guide blog here.

Pura Vida, and see you next week, right here, with more from Alexis!

Time Differences in Costa Rica

Coastal Costa Rica, La Pura Vida Costa Rica, JuliAnne Murphy, Costa Rica coffee
This is how coffee is prepared table side in coastal Costa Rica. Believe me, you want it to take its time!

Time Differences in Costa Rica & how they will affect you as an expat

I’m having a war path day – anyone who’s ever been married know what that looks like when the woman of the house is on the war path, right? 🙂 But what does this have to do with the time differences in Costa Rica that I’m going to post about today?

First, when you move to Costa Rica – and sometimes even when you visit Costa Rica as a tourist – you may find yourself surprised about some of the things that you ‘thought’ would be different, that are not. On the flip side, you may find yourself equally surprised when the things you thought would be the same, are definitely NOT.

I am having one of those days. The ones where everything seems to piss me off about living on the coast of Costa Rica. And, yes, I live close to the beach and in the rainforest, and  as such, have NO reason to do a whole lot of griping. But as today is – what I used to term a “bad Panama day” when I lived in Panama – …well, I’m gonna turn my bitching into a post instead and let you see the inside scoop of how time differences in Costa Rica can both benefit you and plague you, when you live here. Read on, if you please.

Cultural Difference #1 in Costa Rica: Time

Costa RIca sunset, La Pura Vida Costa Rica, JuliAnne Murphy, Costa Ballena Costa Rica, Ballena Coast sunset
In Costa RIca, the Pura Vida life does allow you to catch plenty of sunsets.

Yes, you’ve heard about it. After all, this is Ticolandia, the land of “Pura Vida“, and complete relaxation. That’s right. There’s a definite Yin and Yang related to the concept of time (and especially time management) here in the tropics, and along Costa Rica’s Pacific coast.

When The Concept of Time in Costa Rica is to your benefit

One example, on the Yang side, we had an appointment with the mechanic this morning and were asked to drop off the truck for some work between 9 and 10 a.m.

Side note: Few places here on the coast do anything before 9 a.m. unless they serve breakfast or sell products for farmers who are up at the crack of dawn. Another aspect of Pura Vida!

Back to the truck repair – the guy asked us to drop it off between 9 and 10 a.m. So, we scuttled out of bed early and left the house at around 8:30 a.m. (it’s an hour and a half drive) only to get on the road and realize, “Hmm. We’re hungry.”

“No worries,” said my Tico partner. “Let’s stop for breakfast.” So, we did. Meanwhile, while we munched, he texted the shop to tell them we were enroute with an anticipated later arrival. An hour later (still enroute, behind a huge truck on a two-lane road through the mountains), we realized his phone had been on Airplane mode and the text had not gone through. Ugh.

The good news: when we arrived (only 20 minutes past the original scheduled appointment slot at 10:20 a.m.), the mechanic not only had not received the text, he was non-plussed,  happy to see us and promised, “It will be done within an hour.”

(In Costa Rica, please take note – when someone says “it will be ready in an hour”, you auto-assume it means 2-3 hours.)

So, that’s the Yang side – you can stop to have breakfast on the way to the mechanic and it won’t screw up your entire time table for getting your fixed car back…on the same day. 🙂

time differences in costa rica, costa rica expat, costa rica pura vida, julianne murphy
At a recent kids event, the kids lined up almost an hour early, they were so excited! A cute example of time differences in Costa Rica.

When the Concept of Time in Costa Rica bites you…

On the Yin side (and I may have Yang and Yin mixed up here, feel free to correct me), we left the mechanic and took a taxi 10 minutes down the road to our next appointment. This one was a “loose” appointment, and we had called from the road earlier to say, “Hey! We won’t be there at 10, as planned, but probably will be by 10:30.”

“No worries,” said the guy. “I’ll be there in ten minutes myself.” (As the call originated at 10:07 a.m., that should have meant he’d be there by 10:17 a.m., more or less.)

Good news, we arrived at 10:37 a.m. (Not bad, since we had been more delayed than we had planned because of our own Pura Vida breakfast.)

Bad news, the guy left us waiting…until 11:17 a.m. And, here we are, more than an hour later, and the appointment still hasn’t started. It’s 11:52 a.m. I have to be honest. Now, I’m pissed.

Time Considerations the Pura Vida Costa Rica way

Costa Rica expat, Costa Rica pura vida, costa rica ballena coast
Another example of marked time differences in Costa Rica: when the pool guys show up a day (or two) late.

This is the definite downside of Pura Vida; when the concept of time management (or time consideration) has been either forgotten or pushed back because of the other person’s own Pura Vida relaxed journey, and well, you are simply S.O.L. or at their mercy.

Sometimes, dealing with people related to the concept of time in Costa Rica simply sucks, let’s be honest. Today, for us, has been a mixed bag.

Time Considerations between Panama & Costa Rica – do they differ?

Great question! I’m so glad you asked. 🙂 Yes, they do.

Living as an expat in Costa Rica now for almost three years, and having lived in Panama for eight years prior to that, I’d say that time considerations in Panama are actually worse. (I’m ducking now because my Panamanian friends may be throwing rotten apples at me for saying that.) But, it’s true.

Because Panama has a concentrated dose of Caribbean integrated into the mezcla of culture in the country, you can expect that time considerations in Panama are indeed more pronounced. I covered that topic – with many other examples – in my books about Panama, if you’re interested.

In fact, I did a recent expat interview with an executive in Panama, who commented on her struggles related to time considerations there. Here’s a link to that part of that recent conversation.

In Costa Rica, time is less important in the coastal areas. People are watching the tides for when to go surf or paddle board, after all. In San Jose, the capitol of Costa Rica, people are much more attuned to schedules, perhaps because of the education levels are higher.

Costa Rica Pura Vida, Costa Rica Tico Times, Costa Rica JuliAnne Murphy expat, Costa Ballena, Ballena Coast, pets in Costa Rica
One last thing…things are so relaxed here in Costa RIca, that you have a lot more time for naps. One thing I really like!

So, that’s it for today, kids! I hope you’ve enjoyed this post about time considerations in Costa Rica. It’s now 12:07 and my husband has just been called in…only an hour and a half late…so, I’ll be here for a while longer.

Pura Vida!

Interested in Investing in Costa Rica Real Estate or Becoming a Costa Rica Expat?

I can help! My hubby and I opened our new boutique real estate firm in South Pacific Costa Rica in early 2017, and we’re licensed, legal brokers. Check out our Costa Rica Real Estate website here.